Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Review: Dance of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Disappointment is a bitter, bitter feeling. It's kind of like a sinking ship, where your hopes are all buoyant and untouched, and it slowly but surely begins to slip under the surface of the sea. I remember reading Bethany Griffin's "Masque of the Red Death" a while back, and, while I didn't love it, it was still a decent enough read. So when I found out that its sequel "Dance of the Red Death" was finally being released last week, I eagerly picked up a copy...and ended up feeling like maybe a plague couldn't be that bad after all.

The life of comfort and wealth that seventeen-year-old Araby Worth has disappeared, replaced by a world of betrayal, death and disease. Now onboard a flying ship, Araby, along with the headstrong Elliot, her best friend April, and Will--the boy she loved but was betrayed by--seek to take revenge on Prospero, the cruel and twisted king who allowed the Red Death to spread amongst his people. Araby is determined to save the people she love, even if it means fighting until the very end and partaking in a dance of games in which no one can be trusted.

"How could this be so dang boring?" was pretty much the only thought that crossed through my mind while I was reading "Dance of the Red Death". I think I ended up skimming the first twenty chapters, which sums up to about a good four-fifths of the entire book. What the heck happened? I remember finding the dark and grotesque atmosphere in "Masque of the Red Death" almost captivating, but none of that was really present in the sequel. Literally nothing happens in those twenty chapters. All I remember is some ship-sailing and occasional gun-shooting. The bulk of the book probably serves as some space-filler between the first book and the last four chapters, which was pretty much where the whole point of the book was. Those last few chapters were definitely exciting and twisted, and I feel like if Ms. Griffin had written the entire book based on those last few chapters, it would be way more exciting than it is now. This was just quite a snoozer.

One of the other reasons I probably found "Dance of the Red Death" disappointing was the heroine. Araby is about as interesting as a piece of chalk. Sure, she's definitely a little more...alive in the sequel and has a little more backbone, but she's still such a passive, dull character. I couldn't really get into her mind and empathize with her, despite the fact that I could follow along with her thoughts and emotions, since, you know, you're forced to read about them in the first three-quarters of the entire novel. She's way too caught up in the same emotions of guilt and betrayal that she never really develops smoothly and realistically. And don't get me started on her little love triangle. She's kissing Elliot and Will like there's no tomorrow, without any sort of reflection in it. The fact that made it even worse was the fact that she knew she didn't even like Elliot, since he's twisted and just not the guy for her. My goodness.

I think the saving grace of the novel was, as mentioned before, the last set of chapters, where Araby finally enters the palace and is forced to play Prospero's twisted game. There, the tantalizing darkness we saw in the first book really came to life, with corpses swinging from the ceiling and partygoers glazed in the oblivion of drugs and lust. That was when I really began to pay attention to what was happening and stopped skimming over everything. The tensions were undoubtedly high, and you really became invested in what was happening. It's just too bad that it only happened in the last four chapters of the entire novel.

Overall, "Dance of the Red Death" really fell flat, with a dull heroine and an even duller storyline. Skimming over a chapter is bad enough; skimming over the first twenty chapters is just a definite no-no. Just thank goodness this series ends here--I probably wouldn't pick up the next book if there was one.

Rating: 1.5/5

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

When I finished "Siege and Storm", the second book in the darkly magical "Grisha Trilogy" and the sequel to "Shadow and Bone", I flipped through the last few pages a couple times and went, "That's it?" I was pretty surprised by how quickly and smoothly the whole novel progressed, and I'm excited to see how it all ends in the trilogy's finale! I actually read this book a little more than a week ago, so apologies if my memory's not as fresh as cream this time around!

All Alina and Mal long for is a fresh start. But being hunted across the True Sea and being the renowned Sun Summoner poses more than a few obstacles. Alina knows she can't outrun her past, or her destiny, for long. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold stronger and more dangerous than before, and is bent on having Alina and her great power for himself. With the help of a notorious privateer, who harbours a few secrets of his own, Alina returns to the country she abandoned to stop the darkness from spreading. But as her power grows, Alina finds herself slipping deeper into the Darkling's game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Alina will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

As with many fantasy novels with more complex characters, "Siege and Storm" delves even deeper into Alina's thoughts and emotions as she deals with the responsibilities and burdens that come with being the Sun Summoner. Her love for Mal and her slow surrender to the temptations of power clearly show this, though I do have to admit that at times it did get a bit too repetitive. Or maybe I feel that way because Alina, while understandable, became a little less likable as the book progressed. And maybe that's what Ms. Bardugo wanted! Despite the fact that the heroine does begin to turn away from her 'true self', you still empathize with her after seeing the way the Darkling exploits her growing desire for power. I did like Alina's honesty with herself, like when she realizes she wants to kiss Nikolai, she recognizes that it's probably because of her hurt toward the growing distance between Mal and herself. Honesty's a good way to prevent a character caught in a love triangle from getting annoying.

Speaking of love triangles, I loved the newly introduced character of Nikolai! It's about time there was a real contender for Alina's feelings (the Darkling doesn't count since he's just evil and manipulative). Nikolai, the Prince of Ravka, is such a dynamic, exciting character who's charming and sly and serious all at the same time. Okay, maybe not all at the same time. I feel like Nikolai's something of a chameleon, adapting his actions and words to the situation at hand. But in terms of how suitable he is for Alina, maybe not. Alina needs someone to keep her grounded, and Mal is definitely the boy to do that. Mal's undeniably sweet and courageous, someone who's wholly dependable. But I'm not complaining about a love triangle! It certainly adds some extra tension to the romance in the novel, and who doesn't like a little romance?

Overall, "Siege and Storm" is a mesmerizing sequel with a multi-dimensional cast of characters and a darkly thril

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

I think I've just found the perfect summer read. You know, those books that so effortlessly evoke a feeling of content within you, and whisk you away to sand-filled beaches with the cool waves lapping against the shore. I started Jennifer E. Smith's "This Is What Happy Looks Like" during my grad trip to Thailand, and discovered that it's just perfect for those summer vacations! It's light and sweet, not to mention beautifully written, and I found myself grinning as I flipped through the pages--now that's what I call a beachy read!

When teenage heartthrob Graham Larkin accidentally sends Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a remarkably witty and unforgettable correspondence, sharing everything about their lives and forging a bond they've never experienced before--even if they only know the other person's initials. Then Graham discovers that Ellie's small hometown in Maine is the perfect location for his next movie, and he decides to seek out the girl from his emails in the flesh. But can a movie star who constantly lives in the harsh glare of the spotlight really have an ordinary relationship with a small-town girl like Ellie?

I find that the characters in these kinds of books are of paramount importance in the novel. After all, if you have boring or unlikable protagonists, the entire story falls flat. And who wants to read about the lives of mean/whiny/dull people anyway? Fortunately, both Graham and Ellie are incredibly interesting and compelling characters with their own unique personalities and backgrounds, and I think Ms. Smith has definitely hit the mark with developing complex and endearing protagonists. I'll be honest with you and say that I didn't really pay close attention to the blurb before reading the book, so when I read the opening set of emails between Graham and Ellie, I didn't really even know that Graham was a movie star (oops, I know). So the very first impression I got of his character was that he was a witty, nice guy with a pet pig of all animals. I think if I'd known that he was a famous heartthrob will girls swooning over him, I might've been inclined to think he was arrogant on the outside, with a sweeter side to him, but the book itself thankfully never leaned towards that cliche! Graham is an undeniably sweet, caring character who deals with the downsides of being a well-known actor, someone who, at times, misses what being normal is like. And what I loved about him was that he was such an easy-going guy--not to mention protective!

Ellie is also undoubtedly a sweet, likable main character who, unlike Graham, lives a pretty normal life. She works at the ice cream store in her small town, loves to read poetry, and is living with her single mom. But what made her a really complex and truly interesting character, I think, was the fact that Ms. Smith wove in a backstory to Ellie that set her apart from the rest of the Auden-reading, ice cream-scooping girls. Ellie's struggle to raise money for her summer poetry camp at Harvard was coupled nicely with the fact that her biological father, a well-off politician, was never a huge part of her life. I also think that Ellie's and Graham's personalities worked very well together, and you could just tell why they were so attracted to one another in the first place. They're both witty and funny, yet at the same time possess the ability to take things seriously. In this way, it's easy to see how Graham and Ellie are kind of perfect for each other, despite the vast differences in their backgrounds.

I've read a couple of reviews of "This Is What Happy Looks Like" where other readers have said that nothing much really happens in the story. While this might be true in the conventional sense (i.e. there are no high octane adventures or daring coups against a dystopian government), the novel is rich in the emotional sense, which can be found in the growth of Graham and Ellie as individuals and as a pair. What also really enhanced this was Ms. Smith's beautiful writing. Her language is evocative without being purple, and brought magic to the ordinary. Her descriptions of the sea, or the way people gathered together to celebrate the Fourth of July, were elegant yet simple, and I found myself enchanted by her version of a small town in Maine.

Overall, "This Is What Happy Looks Like" is a sweet and simple novel about the emotional growths of two very different, yet very similar, teenagers. The evocative writing brings the story to life, and it is undoubtedly the perfect book to bring to the poolside on those bright summer days!

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, June 7, 2013

Book Review: Of Triton by Anna Banks

Nothing screams summer like the ocean...or mermaids. With the sun shining bright and the sky blazing blue, I can't help but feel a little lighter on my sandaled feet! I read Anna Banks's "Of Poseidon" a couple of months ago, and thoroughly enjoyed myself as I dove into the world of the Syrena. Luckily for me, its sequel, "Of Triton", was released just last week, which of course meant I had to get my grubby hands on a copy. And trust me, there's nothing like a good YA book along with a nice, refreshing smoothie to have in your hands  as you kick back and enjoy the summer!

Emma has just been kidnapped by her own mother. Who also happens to be the long-lost Poseidon princess, which means that Emma struggles with an identity crisis: As a Half-Breed, she's a freak in the human world and an abomination in the Syrena realm below the surface, one that deserves death. As if that's not bad enough, her mother's reappearance among the Syrena heightens tensions between the two kingdoms--Poseidon and Triton--which could jeopardize the happiness of her family, not to mention her relationship with Galen. Emma is now tasked with a difficult decision: Should she comply with Galen's request to stay away from the water to keep herself safe? Or should she risk it all and reveal herself--and her Gift--to save a people she's never known?

"Of Triton" is one of those incredibly enjoyable, easy reads that you whip through in about a day, and that's especially helped by the fact that it has such a smooth storyline that remains compelling until the very last page. There's a lot that happens in this sequel, with tensions that start off high from the onset--I mean, kidnapped by your own mom? Who also turns out to be some rebellious mermaid princess? Talk about en media res. Emma and Galen make a lot of discoveries as the novel progresses, ones that have the potential to shift the balance of things in the Syrena realm, as well as the survival of their own relationship. There really never is a dull moment in "Of Triton", though I do have to admit that there were times when I had to flip back a few pages because I missed out on something important. Perhaps the storyline was a little too smooth--Ms. Banks could've punctuated the climax a little more strongly to make things even more exciting.

Just like in "Of Poseidon", the chapters of "Of Triton" alternate between the perspectives of Emma and Galen. I remember writing in my review of the first book that I was a little iffy with Galen's chapters, since they were told from a third-person point of view and in the present tense, which sometimes felt a little awkward. The same can be said about Galen's perspective in "Of Triton"--I still think past tense or a first-person point of view could've worked better for him--but I've grown used to it by this point, so it's not too bad. Otherwise, I enjoyed following both Emma and Galen throughout the book. They're likable characters who are both determined, compassionate and thoughtful, plus it's super cute to see the way they interact with each other from both perspectives!

The other characters in "Of Triton" were just as likable and interesting to read about. I especially like Toraf and Rayna--they have such a dynamic relationship that's not generic at all and remains volatile and passionate throughout; a little like yin-and-yang. Rachel, the high-heel struttin', ex-Mafia who helps Galen with human intel, is, as always, a brilliant and fun character, though I still can't believe what happened to her in the book! (See? No spoilers!) As for Nalia, aka Emma's mom and long-lost Syrena princess, I was still a little skeptical about her character. I mean, now that she's revealed to be a mermaid who has a lifespan of 300 years, it just makes her even more unbelievably immature. Sure, she's stubborn like Emma, but sometimes I felt like it was a little weird to have her mom as a pretty irresponsible and childish character. Eh. My opinion of her, however, is a little tempered by her interaction with Grom, whom she was meant to be mated with before her disappearance. Still, though, I wouldn't want a mom like her.

All in all, "Of Triton" is a thoroughly enjoyable, fun read that's perfect for those lazy summer days, with a dynamic cast of characters and a seamless storyline that keeps you interested throughout. I'm really looking forward to the final book in the "Of Poseidon" series, "Of Neptune", and can't express just how refreshed and...summery (!) I feel now!

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Ah, epic fantasy. Arguably the most creative, expansive genre out there, one where you can immerse yourself in a unique world brimming with magic and adventure. One of my favourite fantasy writers (maybe even my top favourite!) at the moment is Brandon Sanderson, the mastermind behind the "Mistborn Trilogy", as well as the YA novel "The Rithmatist" (see me gushing over it here!). I remember completely falling in love a few months ago with Vin and Elend and the rest of the characters of the series, not to mention the awesome world of Allomancy! Alas, all good things must come to an end--in this case--with "The Hero of Ages", the third and final book of my beloved "Mistborn Trilogy".

Humanity is doomed. One year has passed since Vin was tricked into freeing Ruin, the mystic force whose sole desire is to destroy the world, from the Well of Ascension. The ashes now fall more heavily, and the mists are killing more and more people. The world is ending, and it's up to Vin to correct her wrongs and help her husband Emperor Elend Venture, now a Mistborn himself, to find clues left behind by the lord Ruler that will allow them to save the people of the Final Empire. But the omniscient Ruin is bent on ending the world and manipulating Vin's every move, and saving humanity seems impossible.

One of the most impressive things I find about Mr. Sanderson's work, and that of fantasy writers in general, is the vast amount of ingenuity and thought that goes into the writing, resulting in an immersive world that sucks you in and never spits you out. At first, I'd thought that most of the world building would be done in the first book, but in "The Hero of Ages", Mr. Sanderson continues to expand the Final Empire, revealing more nooks and crannies to the world he'd created in the previous two installments. Not only does he take his readers to the different cities and towns outside of Luthadel--each with their own governments and conflicting viewpoints of the events unfolding--but he also brings them to the homes of the Terrismen and the kandra. The fact that the Final Empire only seems to be expanding in the final book shows just how expansive epic fantasy novels can be, and I believe Mr. Sanderson exemplifies this.

I think the same can be said about the characters of the "Mistborn Trilogy" as well. They're constantly developing as people, leaders and heroes, never passive, and that's what makes them truly interesting and engaging characters. Take Vin, for example. We've seen her mature from a suspicious, scarred skaa urchin into a strong, confident Mistborn, who learns to trust and love in ways she never thought she would. Instead of keeping her as simply a kickass, deified Mistborn, however, Mr. Sanderson shows us just how much of a true hero Vin is as she struggles with the truths that are unveiled and the choices she has to make. Elend is another character who undergoes some great character development, especially since he has to juggle his newfound Mistborn abilities with his existing responsibilities as the Emperor of the Final Empire. Admittedly, there isn't as much romance between Vin and Elend as I would've liked (who doesn't like some juicy love here and there?), but the bond that exists between them is undeniable and strong. Another character I have to mention when talking about character development is Spook. A good number of chapters follow Spook, who previously played a more minor role in the "Mistborn Trilogy", and in them, we see him grow as a person and a leader. Long story short, "The Hero of Ages" has incredible character development till the very last page, rendering the characters of the entire series memorable and inseparable from the readers' minds.

Unfortunately, I do have to say that I was a little disappointed by the plot of "The Hero of Ages". There is, without a doubt, exciting events that occur that kept me interested throughout. However, I felt like the storyline wasn't as 'tight' as it could've been. For example, there's a great deal of Sazed ruminating over his collection of religions, and it was a little too repetitive that it lost my attention. In fact, the first half or so of the book could've been condensed so that there wasn't any waffling and repetitions, which might've made the storyline more compelling and engaging. Nonetheless, the last half of the book was definitely exciting--my heart was pounding as I lapped up the last quarter of the novel! There were many times when I thought to myself, "Wow, this would look so, so cool if it were made into a movie", which goes to show how evocative Mr. Sanderson's writing is. The final twists that were revealed at the end tied in extremely nicely with all of the events and clues from the previous two books, like puzzle pieces falling into place. Very, very clever things going on!

Overall, "The Hero of Ages" is a thrilling, immersive finale to an incredible fantasy series, complete with an amazing, memorable cast of characters, an all-encompassing, magical world, and an intricate storyline that spans the entire trilogy. It's bittersweet to finally reach the end of the "Mistborn Trilogy", but this is definitely not the end of exploring more of Mr. Sanderson's work! I highly, highly recommend the "Mistborn Trilogy" to any fantasy lovers out there--this is an adventure you will not want to miss.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June '13 Releases!

So sorry for the belated post! Time's really been whizzing by lately for me, what with graduation (finally!) and summer holiday beginning. Of course, no summer celebration is complete without a trunkful of delicious new novels to slake your thirst for adventure and romance, so, without further adieu, I present to you the releases for June! As always, click on the cover to be whisked away to its Goodreads page.

"Siege and Storm" (The Grisha Trilogy #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Release date: Jun. 4

"Gameboard of the Gods" (The Age of X #1) by Richelle Mead
Release date: Jun. 4

"The Oathbreaker's Shadow" (The Knots Sequence #1) by Amy McCulloch
Release date: Jun. 6

"Dance of the Red Death" (Masque of the Red Death #2) by Bethany Griffin
Release date: Jun. 11

"Belle Epoque" by Elizabeth Ross
Release date: Jun. 11

"Star Cursed" (The Cahill Witch Chronicles #2) by Jessica Spotswood
Release date: Jun. 18